Israel prepares for Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd under lockdown

AN ETHIOPIAN-ISRAELI spiritual leader participates in the main Sigd holiday prayer gathering at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade in Jerusalem last November.

With the Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd just around the corner, a new online initiative is trying to find a creative solution to the problem faced by many this year: how to celebrate holidays in the shadow of the coronavirus lockdown.

Sigd, a unique Ethiopian Jewish holiday marking the deep connection between the Ethiopian Jewish community and Jerusalem, will be celebrated on Monday, but due to the challenge of traveling to Jerusalem this year, a one-of-a-kind website was created to allow Ethiopian Jews to celebrate the holiday from home and to make the holiday’s traditions more accessible to the wide public.

The initiative was created by the Heritage Center for Ethiopian Jewry and Eshkolot – a nonprofit organization with dozens of centers across he country that promote Israeli and Jewish culture.

The website include various activities and information to allow both Ethiopian Jews and people who know nothing about Sigd to have a colorful and educational experience. Content will focus on community life of Ethiopian Jewry, personal aliyah stories, the meaning of the Sigd holiday and its traditions, and its deep roots to the Jewish nation as a whole.

Users will be able to experience an online escape room portraying the story of Ethiopian Jewry, quizzes about Sigd and its connection to the city of Jerusalem and exciting aliyah stories of 17 individuals considered heroes among the Ethiopian Jewish community.

“This initiative is taking place for the first time this year with the purpose of connecting the Israeli public with the rich heritage of Ethiopian Jewry. Thanks to the new website, the general public can now discover new information in an accessible and interactive way and be exposed to the special story of Ethiopian Jewry. The Sigd holiday represents the yearning, the belief and the great expectation of many generations of Ethiopian Jews to reach Jerusalem,” Eshkolot CEO Aidr Vishnia said.

Various events and ceremonies for marking Sigd are planned throughout the country between Sunday evening and Monday. These include a special event organized by the Eshkolot organization on Sunday and a praying ceremony at the Armon Hanatziv Promenade in Jerusalem expected to star at 12:00 pm (Israel time) on Monday.

The ceremony, which has been organized for the past 4 years by the Culture and Sport Ministry, will be attended by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper and Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata.

On Sunday, Kan News will broadcast a special program for Sigd from 16:00 pm (Israel time) that will continue into the night with special panels, personal stories and performances by members of the Ethiopian community in Israel.

“The Sigd holiday is taken from the Ezra–Nehemiah book in the Bible, and Ethiopian Jewry has been preserving its tradition for thousands of years of exile … the special holiday mostly symbolizes the importance of prayer and unity for a nation. Today more than ever, we have the opportunity of learning from the holiday about the importance of sticking together, that more room needs to be given for defining ourselves as one nation – as a chance to erect bridges and rejoice over the fact that we are finally home,” Tamano-Shata said in a statement.

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